The Reluctant Restorer

Just before we were married my future wife took me for a walk out behind her parent’s house up in Minnesota to what she called ‘the gravel pit’. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t for her to ask me what I thought as we stopped in front of a dilapidated hunk of metal.”I don’t know,” I ventured. “What is it?””My ’49 Chevy.” She replied as she batted her eyes. “Someday I’m going to restore it.””Oh, really.” I said with all the enthusiasm of a young, single man to his soon-to-be bride. Back then I admired her for her sense of adventure. That was before I realized her adventures meant me working.Several years later, well, more like fifteen, my wife had a few hundred dollars burning a hole in her pocket. We were living in Kansas then and she had decided the time had come. “You remember my pickup?” she asked.”No.” I said as I rubbed my eyes. “You have a pickup truck?””In Minnesota.” She said impatiently. “I showed it to you, remember? In the gravel pit.””Oh, yeah.” I lied. “Your pickup truck in the gravel pit.””Well, I think we better restore it before it gets stolen or something. I’ve found a guy that will bring it here if I just pay his gas.””Would I have to do anything?” I asked carefully.”Nope.”That was good enough for me. I forgot all about it until we returned from our summer vacation. That rusted hunk of metal was now sitting in my front yard.”It’s here!” My wife squealed.”It’s here!” I gasped.The first thing I did was to figure out how to get it in the garage. It was an eyesore and I didn’t think it belonged in the front yard. Of course in Kansas it was more of a status symbol if it was jacked up in the front yard.Several months went by, well a year and my wife asked me if we were ever going to do anything with the pickup. I think she knew I had secretly saved up a few hundred dollars.”Well, it would be nice to get it out of the garage,” I said. “Does somebody want it?””It’s not for sale,” she scolded.A few hours later I was obediently handing money to some guy in Oklahoma for a hood, an engine, a rear end and lots of advice. His final words still make me shiver. “This is just the beginning.” He warned. “You’ll never be through spending money on it.”I carefully placed our new rusty relics in the garage, where they sat for a few weeks.”Are we ever going to start on my pickup?” My wife sweetly asked one fall day.Some young guys came over and helpfully watched while I sat underneath the corroding hunk of metal, trying to figure out how to get rid of the unusable rear end. “Man you’re going to need gallons of WD-40 on this thing.” They finally said. I bumped my head and felt my sinuses fill up as I stared at a maze of what I now know was ferric oxide.Eventually, after many painful hours I had managed to pull off the old rear end and bolt in the new one. Now the pickup would roll if the wheels weren’t blocked. I didn’t know what to do next.”I found a guy who’ll rebuild the engine if you don’t want to do it, honey.” My wife told me as she batted her eyes.”How much will it cost?” I asked her.”He’s not sure.””Will he buy it from us?””I’m not selling.”Well, now we had to move to Missouri, so I put the pickup out of my mind for a few months. Then an ex-friend of mine hauled the hulk of metal up to us. “I just need to pay for the trailer,” He told me with his hand out.”I’ve found a mechanic that says he can get the truck running.” My wife told me with breathless excitement one evening after work.”How much will it cost?” I said as I rubbed my eyes. I looked at the scars on my knuckles and asked, “Will I have to do anything?””All you have to do is take an occasional trip to the junk yard and find parts for him.” My wife said sweetly. “You can do it on your days off. You don’t mind, do you?” She batted her eyes and I sighed.Our new mechanic asked me where this and that part had disappeared to. “Beats me.” I would say. “You want to buy it?””Your wife said no. And who put this rear end on? They did it wrong.””Beats me.” I replied.Soon I knew where all the old pickups were parked amidst acres of old rusted out heaps of junk only thirty miles from us in Missouri. I have many fond memories of digging holes underneath almost unrecognizable pieces of debris so I could unbolt some missing link for my wife’s piece relic.I would proudly bring back manifolds and carburetors and dip sticks that I had spent hours finding, dismantling and bringing to a tobacco chewing junkyard owner who would scratch his head and tell me how much more they were worth than what he’d finally decide to charge me. My mechanic would smile and show me how the stuff I brought him was from ‘a Ford, not a Chevy’ or something technical like that.Eventually everything was in place. Well as far as our mechanic was concerned. He had me do the minor things, like taking out the seat, removing old pieces of this and that while he did the important things, like rebuilding the engine. “It’ll be fun for you.” He’d say.With the engine running I had no choice but to bring it home and stick it in the garage. The hood was still not attached, the bed missing and the fenders all beat up from the days when my father-in-law actually drove the thing.”I can do the body work and paint it.” My wife said. “You don’t have to do a thing. “How much will it cost me?”So now instead of running to the junkyard for engine and transmission pieces, I went for missing body parts. And when I was back home, trying to relax in my easy chair, my wife would be out in the garage puttying and sanding and banging and more or less doing other noisy things.”It’s ready to paint!” She told me one day. “What color do you think?” I mumbled something but luckily she couldn’t understand me.We finally agreed on a color and my wife went from expert to expert getting advice on how to paint the thing. After several experiments and the acquisition of a respirator and paint gun attachment she began painting.Inevitably she had the color the way she wanted and it was time to bolt the hood on. I skinned my knuckles as much as I scratched off the new paint setting it into place. “Now I know how to do it.” I told her.”When you’re done wiring it, we just need to assemble the bed. My brother-in-law is giving me some oak boards from his sawmill.” My wife told me just before she left for a trip to Minnesota. When she came back I helped her unload some rough cut oak boards.”Of course we’ll have to get these planed somewhere,” she told me with enthusiasm.”Are you keeping track of how much this is costing?” I asked her.Day after day I would stare under the hood and read my shop manual. Which wire went where? What switch was supposed to do what? Eventually I had the lights working, but then we had to move to Iowa.I looked at the oak boards, and the bed kit of thousands of bolts and washers and nuts. “I better put the bed together before we move and lose all this,” I sighed.”Oh, honey that would be great!” My wife batted here eyes.I groaned and began tearing out the remnant of the old bed. Several splinters and a few bandages later I had it all apart.My wife decided I worked best when I was by myself. That way she and the kids didn’t have to worry about my attitude which she said got worse when I worked on her pickup.But the challenge of bolting together a new bed inspired me. Sort of. I spent many anxious moments putting it together the wrong way, underneath, in the dirt, with the spiders, holding a nut on my worn out VISA card as I tried to get the threads to catch.The day before we left for Iowa I had it together. I put some varnish on the oak boards and decided that the truck was starting to look pretty good.Once we had it in Iowa I went ahead and got the heater and windshield wipers working. Then I had to get the gas gauge to work. Now it just needs a few more things. And I told my wife I’d like to redo a couple things we messed up.”How much will it cost?” She asked me. “You think somebody would want to buy it?””It’s not for sale.” I say.(Sold on Ebay, 11/21/2006)